Over the past few years, the use of client-specific extranets by public relations firms has become almost commonplace. Almost every major agency and most technology boutiques use extranets routinely to share information and facilitate communication between account team members and client contacts. But over the past year, more and more firms have started to use extranets to communicate not only with existing clients, but also with prospects.
Some extranets are put in place within hours of the agency receiving the request for proposal, providing information on the agency’s credentials, pertinent case histories, and agency personnel with pertinent experience. They expand throughout the pitch process, becoming a medium for sharing research, creative thinking, and even billing information.
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide used new business extranets in pitching the Dell Computer business in Europe and the Sun Microsystems business in the U.S. (not surprisingly, extranets are particularly appealing to technology clients) and agency president Bob Seltzer believes the ability to share information in real time with multiple contacts within the client organization was one of the keys to Ogilvy’s success.
Brodeur Worldwide has created a custom-designed extranet for almost every pitch the agency has made over the past three years, while Golin/Harris International uses new business extranets under specific circumstances. Says agency president Rich Jernstedt, “It depends on the nature of the business. We’re more likely to use an extranet if it’s a technology client, if we believe it demonstrates our ability to use technology more effectively on the client’s behalf, of if we are bringing together multiple disciplines and multiple offices.”
In addition to a digital copy of the proposal, Brodeur Worldwide provides bios of the team, original research, brand and industry audits, case studies, client references, “best hits” clip books, case studies, portfolios and relevant work assignments. The firm says it spends between $1,000 and $3,000 creating each extranet—comparable to the amount it spends creating printed pitch materials.
Ogilvy, meanwhile, shares credentials, customer service success stories, and examples of creative materials.
Cohn & Wolfe, meanwhile, employs a system that enables account teams to set up extranets for new business prospects and existing clients through my.cohnwolfe.com, which launched in May of this year. Says Cohn & Wolfe’s Koley Berkowitz, “Through my.cohnwolfe.com, users can set up extranets for their clients and prospects directly at their desktop. The first adopters have been in the technology space, but this is rapidly expanding across geographies, industries and services.”
Some clients have come to expect extranets, while many others appreciate being able to access information in an interactive format.
“The response from clients has been excellent,” says Andrea Carney, chief executive at Brodeur Worldwide. “They appreciate the immediate access to information about our company, our people, and our capabilities and expertise as it relates to their particular situation. For global or multi-region pitches, this is particularly helpful and extranets help bring together all the parts of a geographically diverse team.
“Pitch extranets also demonstrate how technology can be put to work on a client’s behalf to facilitate their communications processes. An example would be the Philips Communications Extranet, which we created for its North American division more than three years ago.”
The number of client-side visitors to an extranet generally depends on the number of people involved in the agency selection process. It could be two or three; in some cases it’s as many as 15 or 20 people. Says Jernstedt, “We have had situation in which people beyond the review committee were allowed to be exposed to the review process, so we had the direct reports of some of the people on the committee checking out the extranet and providing feedback.”
Consumer technology specialist Access Communications is one of the few midsize firms using extranets. Vice president Tuesday Uhland explains the firm has been using an FTP site to share documents with clients for some time.
Says Uhland, “An extranet gave us the opportunity to provide the kind of information in a format that they were used to seeing and in a way that would allow the committee to easily focus on the information that was most important to each individual and in a manner that was both visually and mentally stimulating. It’s a highly effective means of delivering a lot of requested information.”
Other midsize agencies have not yet gotten in on the new business extranet act. Some had never considered it; others dismiss it. Says Steve Cody, president of New York-based business-to-business specialist PepperCom, “It’s bells and whistles. It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to make or break your presentation.”